Omar Bravo is somewhat of a footballing legend back in his native Mexico; at least at the club level, coming from Club Deportivo Guadalajara, where he amassed 107 goals over two stints with the club that signed him as a youth player and was groomed as a prized member of the club’s famed youth academy. Bravo worked his way through the ranks of the academy and made his senior team debut as a 21-year-old in 2001.
His first spell with Chivas, seven full-year seasons and his very first three appearances with the club in 2001, saw him become one of the most successful players to ever play in the Primera División de México. From 2002-2008, just six seasons, Bravo scored a whopping total of 99 goals for his boyhood club. In that time, he won the Mexican League Clausura 2007 golden boot by scoring 11 goals in just 17 games. That same year, he also won the 2007 CONCACAF Champions Cup golden boot by earning joint top scorer honors with D.C. United’s Luciano Emilio, scoring four goals in six games.
From 2006-2007, Bravo enjoyed the most successful run of his career. On top of his 2007 success with Chivas, he was also no slouch during this time with the Mexican national team, El Tri. 2006 saw Bravo score five goals for the Mexicans (including two in one game at the 2006 FIFA World Cup against Iran), followed by another four in 2007, though he never managed to score against Mexico’s most hated rivals, the United States. While it looks like his international playing career may have finally run its course, he currently sits on 15 goals scored inside of 62 national team appearances.
Bravo jumped seas to Spain prior to the 2008 La Liga season after he was allowed to become a free agent by Chivas. A rather unsuccessful nine-game stint with Deportivo La Coruña later, and Bravo was back playing in Mexico, this time for Tigres U.A.N.L. on a short loan spell. After finishing 2009 with Tigres, it was back to Chivas for Bravo. Four more goals in 30 more appearances, and he was once again a desired commodity. Sporting Kansas City agreed a deal with the player to sign as Kansas City’s second ever designated player on Aug. 13, 2010. He was then loaned back to Chivas - essentially allowed to stay and finish the league and Copa Libertadores competitions with Chivas - before reporting to Kansas City prior to the 2011 Major League Soccer season. Now 31, Bravo is looking to prove that he’s still got lots of football left in his career.
What will be the biggest adjustment Bravo will have to make?
More than anything, the first big hurdle for Bravo to cross will simply be getting his scoring pedigree back in tow. The last time he scored at least five goals in a season was 2008. For a player now north of 30, you typically don’t see a player’s scoring rate jump up at that point in his career. Much of that could be placed on a failed stint overseas where he was never able to get his footing and afforded an opportunity to contribute regularly. He also dealt with a few small injuries in 2010 that kept him from being the full-time starter that he had become accustomed to early in his career.
As far things go for Bravo tactically, the biggest adjustment in coming to MLS will be the physicality that he will undoubtedly encounter from the league’s defenders. The Mexican league isn’t exactly known for being defensive-minded. Based on a bit of highlight footage of some great goals scored in Mexico, Bravo was allowed ample time to trigger creative flicks, sharp turns and receive serviced balls in questionable areas. With the reputation of MLS defenders being much that of a rough-and-tough banger, he likely won't be given space the way he's used to.
What kind of impact can Bravo have on his team?
The biggest thing that Bravo can do to combat the previously mentioned adjustments is to simply show up everyday and perform as the consummate professional that he is. The type of player that Bravo is - creative and forward-thinking - is exactly the type of player that the 2010 Wizards were missing once things moved into the final third and often stalled. Kudos go out to the front office and coaching staff for recognizing this and bringing in someone that looks set to remedy that problem.
It is still yet to be determined where Bravo will spend most of his time on the field in 2011 for Sporting KC. To this point, he’s already played all three forward spots in head coach Peter Vermes’ 4-3-3 system, and been mentioned by coaches as an extremely viable option as an attacking midfielder. Perhaps the best analogy to make sense of Bravo’s role on the team is this: often times in college football, a team will recruit a player that is best described as an "athlete." You’re unsure where best he fits, or even exactly what his best attributes are. But, what you do know is that at any moment in any game, he could do something that no one else on the field has the mind or ability to do. So for that reason alone, you find a way to get him into the game; even if it is just saying to the player, "go out there and just play, make something happen."
Because of that, Bravo has the potential to be integral piece of Sporting KC’s playoff and further hopes in 2011. On a team that has lost a lot of experience and leadership since the end of the 2010 season, he can also come in and rather than being a vocal leader to his teammates (his English actually isn’t the greatest, so he speaks to the media through a translator, the team’s fitness and conditioning coach), lead by example everyday by simply doing what he’s done for the last decade - be a true professional footballer.
What's a reasonable expectation in terms of production and playing time?
In Bravo’s first MLS season, predictions might be better off left to throwing darts at a dartboard, rather than trying to form a hypothesis for yourself. Honestly, he could finish the season with two goals and a 12-plus assists while becoming the team’s creative force from midfield and feeding players like Kei Kamara and Teal Bunbury on their ways to big goal-scoring years. A dozen goals and and two assists as a player that just finds a way to put the ball in the back of the net is nowhere near out of the question for Bravo, either.
While everything ultimately falls on him, the route that his season goes will likely rely heavily upon the way Vermes elects to use him. If injured forwards Ryan Smith and Teal Bunbury return to good health sooner rather than later, the strike force could get a bit crowded, and in an attempt to simply get the guy on the field, Vermes could shift Bravo back alongside captain Davy Arnaud in midfield, thus leading to lots of assists and fewer goals. If Smith and Bunbury were to struggle with regaining health, or even returning to form quickly, you can expect to see Bravo play all around up top, which given his reputation and career track record, could lead to a lot of goals for the little Mexican.
What's the ceiling on Bravo?
At 31, you have to first realize and accept the fact that a player’s best days are behind him. Not often does a forward older than 30 have a career renaissance and start banging in 20 goals a season. That said, the greatest thing that Bravo has going for him in that regard is that the first thing a player loses with age typically tends to be their high-end speed. Some players rely on that ability to simply outrun defenders to score or create goals. To Bravo’s credit, his game has never really been predicated around that facet of human ability.
As previously mentioned, Sporting KC already have a few forwards with great physical tools - Kamara’s size and strength, Smith’s speed and agility on ball, Bunbury’s combination of all those things - but the one thing none of them possesses is the one thing that Bravo has made a career on - a footballer’s brain. That alone, in a league still working to raise the standard, he will probably be in the top 5 percent of footballer’s brains and vision, and could find himself to be wildly successful.
- Report by Andy Edwards of The Daily Wiz